How to Eat an Elephant

As a new preservation librarian managing a large project for the first time, and faced with what I thought at the time was some huge insurmountable problem, I often sought advice from my wise supervisor, Carolyn Clark Morrow. Often, her response was a riddle:

“How do you eat an elephant?”

The first time, she told me the answer. But in each subsequent “crisis” she would make me say it:

“One bite at a time!”

Then we’d laugh, I’d calm down, put the problem in perspective, and be in a better state of mind to tackle the problem rationally.

I learned a lot of things from Carolyn Morrow. This was at Harvard when the library preservation program was brand new. There was a lot to do. A major effort in those early days was developing a methodology to survey the condition of Harvard’s vast and diverse collections. Each time we prepared a grant application or planned a new initiative was time for some sort of information gathering – condition surveys, time studies, cost analyses, or other data gathering.

We used surveys of various kinds to begin to define the scope of preservation needs, order our universe, plan projects, and get work done. One of the first item-level condition surveys was of a collection of 5,000+ H.H. Richardson architectural drawings to prepare a proposal for funding that included conservation treatment, re-housing, cataloging, creation of finding aids, and reformatting.

But surveys need not always be in great depth. One of the simplest but most effective was a one-page form for curators to nominate collections for preservation. It collected information on significance, use, size, formats, and level of intellectual control. It didn’t take a great deal of time, nor was it exhaustive, but it helped kick-start things. This simple survey is a predecessor to the checklists often used today as a first step in considering the appropriateness of collections for digital conversion.

Surveys help identify and quantify preservation needs, develop plans to address them, prioritize, and then organize work so it can be carried out systematically and efficiently. Surveys can support many kinds of preservation planning. They can be at the institution level, evaluating infrastructure, organization, and activities; or they can focus on the condition of a specific collection.

Surveys have a role in guiding long-established programs as well as new ones, because no library’s preservation program can afford to remain static. Rather, to be effective over time, preservation programs must be able to respond to patterns of use, collection development priorities, and information formats that are constantly changing. An institution-level assessment can help re-align/re-balance preservation programs with the changing world they exist to support. When there has been significant change in the environment, an institution-level assessment, with broad participation across the library, may be in order.

As for surveys at the collection level, they are but one method among several used to identify materials in need of preservation. Selection for preservation can occur:

  • at the point of use (e.g., after circulation, or prior to exhibition, digitization, or other kind of use)
  • upon acquisition or in processing
  • via review at the shelf (often in tandem with shelf reading, transfer, or other collection management activity)
  • by a condition survey, or
  • using a “great collections” approach to focus on collection strengths.

Each selection method has its place, and ideally a library would use many of these. Use-based selection has ordinarily been a top priority in academic libraries, for good reason. Although it is undoubtedly important to address the immediate needs of users first, the huge changes over the past two decades both necessitate and make it possible to devote more resources to other approaches. Some of the indicators of this shift are that:

  • Libraries provide access to information in many formats, each with distinct preservation needs
  • Digital information and time-based media are centrally important today for learning and research, and circulation of print continues to decline (with some exceptions)
  • Digital information requires proactive preservation action
  • Analog time-based media pose an urgent preservation problem due to obsolescence and media deterioration
  • An ever-larger proportion of analog holdings are in remote storage and/or available as digital surrogates
  • We are taking on new commitments to share collections and draw down duplicate print holdings; special collections and aggregate subject collections of distinction (all formats) take on greater significance

Surveys can help when it comes to eating the elephant.

Follow the Preservation Blog for future installments on some of the surveys being carried out by the IUB Libraries’ Preservation Department.


Postmortem [pohst-mawr-tuh m]


  • Medicine/Medical. a postmortem examination; autopsy.
  • an evaluation or discussion occurring after the end or fact of something: to do a postmortem on the decision of a court.
  • a discussion of the bidding or playing of a previous hand.

kinsey air dryingPreservation folks spend a lot of time preparing for library disasters. We identify risks and mitigate the ones we can; stock up on plastic sheeting, flashlights, and all sorts of stuff; make contact lists, and train staff to be ready to respond when disaster strikes. While all those things are very important, to me the best preparation for a disaster is to experience one! Living through a disaster response/recovery effort concentrates the mind more effectively than reading any number of how-to guides.

So a postmortem discussion can be very instructive, not to mention cathartic! By going over what happened after the fact, lessons can be learned and are etched more firmly in peoples’ minds. When disaster strikes, it is often chaotic, you don’t have all the information you would like to have, yet you have to come up with a plan in relatively short order. If several people were involved, you can be sure each one saw or experienced something that others did not. Talking about what worked and what didn’t helps disaster team members be better prepared next time.

Disaster response should proceed in a deliberate way. Despite that each disaster is different, the experience of how you organized yourselves to carry out the response is valuable for coping with the next emergency. By following these steps, the chaos and confusion can be managed:

1. Report the emergency
2. Notify the disaster team
3. Ensure safety
4. Halt damage
5. Stabilize the environment
6. Evaluate the extent of damage
7. Plan the recovery strategy
8. Activate the disaster team

Why am I talking about disaster response and postmortems anyway? It is because after sixteen months and thousands of sheets of waxed paper and Reemay, I finally completed recovering four hundred sixty-nine books that were water-damaged over the Fourth of July holiday weekend in 2014 in the Library of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.

The leak probably started at the beginning of the three-day holiday, judging from the condition of the books when we got there. It happened to be over the part of the collection with books about sex in art and in film, so about 90% of them were heavily illustrated. You know what that means – lots of coated paper!

When we got to the Kinsey Library, about five staff there were removing wet books from the shelves and bringing them to the reading room. When I saw that the majority of the books had coated paper, and how many there were, I devised a plan and explained what we were going to do, including why dealing with the coated paper was the top priority. Coated (glossy) paper sticks together permanently once it has gotten wet and begins to dry.

coated paper 1
Coated paper with pages stuck together

Coated paper must be interleaved with non-stick material between every page, or frozen right away while still wet. So the plan was to sort books into three groups: 1) coated paper, 2) regular paper, saturated, and 3) regular paper, damp. We packed the books in milk-crate-like plastic totes, which we labeled as coated, saturated, or damp, and brought them back to the Preservation Department in our cars.

Once back in the lab, we knew that there were way too many books to air dry. We didn’t take time to count, but we guessed 300-400. We kept out the damp ones (about 120), and put the rest in one of our walk-in freezers. Those would be dealt with in batches using our Wei T’o Freezer-Dryer.

We air-dried the damp books, with fans set up all over the lab. That took a week or two. As we worked on the damp books, we discovered that some had coated paper. In the rush of packing up, and because it is risky to open up a wet book (wet paper tears very easily), the sorting had not been perfect. We interleaved the damp coated-paper books with waxed paper between every page. The rest were interleaved with paper towels, which were changed frequently.

kinsey air drying
Air drying Kinsey Library books

My cranky grandpa Wei T’o, a freezer-dryer purchased by the Library in 1989, was my constant companion for over a year.

wei t'o
Wei T’o

I say cranky because he broke down twice during the sixteen months, each time full of frozen books. And when he was working, it was a challenge to keep the temperature at the optimal setting.

wei to thermometer
Weit t’o thermometer

I took books out of the walk-in freezer in batches and placed them in the Wei T’o on the drying cycle (30 degrees F, high rate if air flow). Slowly, the books dried as the water content was sublimated, or turned into a vapor from the frozen state without becoming liquid. I checked them frequently, and as the icy blocks opened up, I added Reemay interleaving to promote drying, and reshaped and weighted them to reduce distortion.

bks in wei to 2
Books drying in the Wei t’o freezer

As they became almost dry, I took them out, usually air-dried in front of fans for a while, then put them into the book press to flatten.

Later we learned the cause of the leak. Here in south-central Indiana our water has a lot of limestone in it, and deposits build up inside pipes. In this case, the drain pipes in the heating and cooling system (over the library stacks) became clogged and the water found another way out, as it always does. The same problem has plagued Wells Library, but now steps have been taken to avoid this happening, including, among other things, regularly scheduled maintenance to check and clear the drains.

The Indiana University Office of Insurance, Loss Control & Claims requested I keep track of staff time spent on recovery, so I can report that we spent 91 hours over sixteen months on the recovery effort. It would have been just as many hours, but over a shorter period if not for the two Wei T’o outages. We contract with an outside company for service, and this added about 4 months to the time the Wei T’o was out of commission. Fortunately we have other freezers, so we could keep the books in a holding pattern until the Wei T’o was back in operation.

The final count of affected books was higher than we had guesstimated originally. I counted them as recovery was completed and the books were sent back to the Kinsey Library. In all there were 469 books. Nineteen needed repair or rebinding (4%) and 16 (3%) were unusable due to blocked pages (coated paper permanently stuck together).

The History of Sumatra, and of the book-cloth tape attached to its cover

Another day, another book with book-cloth tape.

History of Sumatra before treatment

A nice book, though —

The history of Sumatra, containing an account of the government, laws, customs and manners of the native inhabitants, with a description of the natural productions, and a relation of the ancient political state of that island by William Marsden, 2 ed., London, 1784.

The full-leather cover was worn, but the structure of the book was intact except for the spine covering. Besides a new spine, the book only needed a few paper mends, and of course, tape removal.

bookcloth tape
Book cloth tape and fragments of the leather spine cover

While book-cloth tape may seem like a good idea at first (library supply companies still sell it), over time the rubber-based adhesive dries out, the cloth tape falls off, and the repair fails. And the hardened crust of adhesive remains, and can be difficult to remove without further damaging the deteriorated and weak leather.

Adhesive residue, bottom part already cleaned
Adhesive residue, bottom part already cleaned

Unfortunately, old book-cloth tape repairs are all-too-common. What is not so common, though, is finding out when the tape was applied:

photo circ card
The book was checked out to the Bindery on January 2, 1943. I can’t be certain, but it seems likely that is when the book got its tape treatment – no other repairs are evident.


photo 1
Removing dried adhesive residue

I removed most of the adhesive crust by gently “scrubbing” with a soft brush and 1% Klucel G in isopropanol. The Klucel G extends the working time of the alcohol, which otherwise dries too quickly to soften the adhesive. As the Klucel becomes cloudy/whitish, I scoop it off with the brush, then flush the area with isopropanol and a paint brush to clean off the rest of the adhesive/Klucel glop.

cover at
After treatment. The leather is a bit darker than the rest of the cover where the book-cloth tape was, and there is a slight line of adhesive residue corresponding to the edge of the tape.
photo 5
New spine made of long-fibered paper toned with acrylics. The pebbly texture of the leather cover was mimicked by gently rubbing the toned paper laid on top of the leather cover.

How Costs Factor into the Preservation of Library Collections

Fraying out linen threads used as “thread staples” to reattach covers

Although the image of the library conservator or preservation professional may be that of a person patiently performing careful, delicate, even tedious conservation treatments,

Elise Calvi
Light bleaching a document

there is another important dimension to our work — one that may not be apparent to the casual observer.

We are also number crunchers!

addiator arithma sterling
Addiator arithma sterling

In fact, the wise use of resources is absolutely fundamental to the work of preserving library collections — especially in research libraries committed to the permanent retention of vast collections built over decades and centuries:

“Faced with the magnitude of preservation needs in libraries, the constant growth and aging of collections, and the proliferation of new information formats, preservation managers are motivated to use every available strategy to maximize resources in order to accomplish preservation goals.[i]

The whole idea of preservation, after all is economy – making sure that what we have stays around in useable form for as long as it is needed.

So, in honor of David Letterman’s retirement this year, here are the top ten ways that costs factor into the preservation of library collections. I use the term “costs” broadly, encompassing both the management strategies that ensure efforts are directed where they are most needed and have the greatest impact, as well as the true bean counting activities we engage in for a host of planning purposes.

 Top Ten Ways that Costs Factor into the Preservation of Library Collections

  1. We prioritize our efforts according to the library’s mission and collection development goals.
  1. We focus on preventing damage and slowing the rate of deterioration — actions that benefit all the collections and have the greatest impact — before devoting resources to individual item treatments.
  1. We determine which materials are at highest risk/greatest need according to a decision matrix of condition, use, and research value.
  1. We gather data about the preservation needs of the collections via condition surveys as a basis for resource planning and batching work for efficiency.

Then we conduct cost analyses and time studies to:

  1. Compare the costs and effectiveness of different methods of accomplishing work, e.g., in-house vs. outsourced
  1. Project costs for budget planning, developing new programs, and preparing grant applications
  1. Calculate which product is least expensive (when the stock sizes or quantity discounts are not the same from vendor to vendor)

We also consider:

  1. The opportunity costs of different choices. What won’t we be able to do if we do this?
  1. The cost of neglecting the preservation of the collections
  1. Lastly, we recognize that preservation is a necessary activity because the collections are a research library’s capital assets, acquired, organized, and made accessible at great expense!
library images banner
L to R: Franklin Hall Special Collections, Wells Library, Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility

[i] Elise Calvi, Yvonne Carignan, Liz Dube, and Whitney Pape. The Preservation Manager’s Guide to Cost Analysis. Chicago: Preservation and Reformatting Section, Association for Library Collections & Technical Services, 2006, p. 1.


Inverse Relationships in Libraryland

One definition of inverse, from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is:

adjective in·verse \(ˌ)in-ˈvərs, ˈin-ˌ\
–used to describe two things that are related in such a way that as one becomes larger the other becomes smaller

I first observed the phenomenon of inverse relationships in libraryland while working on a project to reformat and catalog over 10,000 nineteenth-century pamphlets of the Italian Risorgimento.

And I found it somewhat perverse!

I noticed there is often an inverse relationship between the thickness of a book and the time it takes to catalog (and/or the length of the catalog record). Many of the pamphlets were ephemeral, lacking information such as publication place or date, and their subject content was not always conveyed well by one or two subject headings. Numerous explanatory note fields were added.

Now take a nice big textbook  — such as Samuelson’s Economics : an introductory analysis. Author, title, edition, publication statement, description, bibliography note, one subject. Done!

Samuelson's Economics
Samuelson’s Economics

Since that time working on the Risorgimento pamphlets, I have often encountered the law of inverse relationships at work in the library. Once when starting a new job in an art library, the uncataloged books awaiting my arrival had grown to crisis proportions, filling every available shelf in our workspace. So, applying the law of inverse relationships, I cataloged all the thick books first!

Spreading the Conservation Gospel

Hello all! My name is Chelsea Liddell and I am a student worker in the Preservation Lab. I work in the Bindery Unit with Erin McAvoy and also in the Paper Lab with Doug Sanders. Today I want to talk a little about preservation from the student perspective.

Chelsea Liddell mending paper tears
Chelsea Liddell at work in the lab mending paper tears using pre-coated repair tissue

What do you think of when you hear “preservationist?” A lot of us picture a bespectacled, lab-coated, white-gloved technician delicately cleaning manuscripts with a minute brush and repairing papers with fine-pointed tweezers. For many of us in library school, this image can be daunting; the field of preservation and conservation still retains a certain aura of esoteric mysticism. But libraries know the importance of integrating preservation closely with the rest of the library’s work. The most important conservation technique is prevention, and both librarians and conservators know that it is vitally important to involve workers at all levels to ensure that materials are handled and cared for properly.

Many libraries are not as fortunate as IU in having a dedicated preservation department, and for some librarians they are literally the only person working at their library. For these “lone rangers” especially, it is extremely useful to know some basic preservation techniques. IU has been making numerous efforts in this vein, one of which was a workshop organized by second-year MLS student, Katie Kuntz.

Katie Kuntz
Katie Kuntz sewing a pamphlet

When I asked her how she came up with the idea, Katie explained, “It’s a significant part of librarianship that many people don’t have a firm foundation in … knowing that your materials are actual, physical things and you can prolong their lives. A lot of people are interested and I just saw the need.”

Katie organized a four-hour workshop, given by Elise Calvi, Head of General Collections Conservation and Preservation, which taught ten library students some basic preservation principles and techniques, with the hope that they might go on to utilize these tips in their own libraries someday.

Trimming pamphlets prior to sewing
students at work
Making enclosures for books

Students learned how to sew pamphlets (a technique that can be used to bind thinner, flimsier items, such as newsletters), how to make a sturdy enclosure for a book (which can protect damaged, fragile, or special books from fluctuations in environmental conditions, light, and pollutants, and provide structural support on the shelf), how to mend paper tears with wheat paste and Japanese tissue paper, humidify and flatten rolled documents, and also how to dry water-logged books.

Wet book

Elise Calvi showing the damage that occurs when books get wet.

Now these students will be able to provide really good, primary care for items they might encounter in the future!

This is just one of the many things that the Preservation Lab at IU is doing to spread the conservation message across the world! As a library student myself, I know that I have found the knowledge gained by working in the lab to be incredibly valuable to the rest of my studies. Dirt, floods, mold, and hoards of locusts, I know that I am ready to deal with whatever may come! Stay tuned to see what other amazing things are going on at the lab!

Oh, the places you’ll go! (if you are a book …)

Some books really get around.

photo 1
Front endpapers of the Progressive Glee and Chorus Book

A book’s life history may be of great interest (see, for example, the Book Traces project). Or it may be just a curiosity. Sometimes I feel I am a bit of a dilettante, more interested in the package than the contents. But I suppose that goes with the territory.

Books contain information of different kinds. There is the intellectual content, or “message,” and the physical container, or “medium.” The medium conveys information also. It may be closely tied to the message, or informative about the context and time in which the work was produced.

In addition to the kinds of information present in a book when it was first produced, the physical evidence of a book’s life history, added over time, may also be of value, whether connected or not to the book’s original purpose.

In “Preservation, Library Collections, and the Concept of Cultural Property” Paul Banks describes the “duality” of medium and message, and identifies the challenge this presents for libraries: “The point at which discourse must begin is the difficult question of the relative significance, usefulness, and importance of medium and message. [1]

An extraordinarily well traveled book arrived on my bench recently from the circulating collection in the William and Gayle Cook Music Library. Its package was very interesting to me, though perhaps less so to the Music Library, where the value was its intellectual content.

photo 1
The progressive glee and chorus book : consisting chiefly of music selected from the best German, English, and Italian authors … : adapted for use in high schools, advanced singing classes, and musical societies / arranged and composed by George B. Loomis. — New York : Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor and Co., 1881, c1879.

The wear and structural damage are evidence of this book’s use. The illustrations and text on the green paper cover are mostly worn away, and what remains is barely legible because of the embedded grime. Compare the image above to the one below of a copy in better condition in HathiTrust.)

Cover of another copy in HathiTrust
Cover of another copy in HathiTrust

While the cover indicates a little something about this book’s life history, the inside of our Progressive Glee and Chorus Book contains a world of intrigue. Upon opening the book, my first observation was that all the wear most likely occurred before it ever entered the Music Library’s collection –

photo 3
Front endpapers, Progressive glee and Chorus Book

The bookplate and its placement on top of some of the inscriptions made that clear.

Then I started reading all the inscriptions. I counted 23 addresses, some with names, all over the endpapers! Many are from Chicago; others are from Bloomington, Lafayette, and Indianapolis, Indiana; Columbus and Marietta, Ohio; Sapulpa Indian Territory and Shawnee, in Oklahoma; and Rogers, Arkansas. Were these addresses of the previous owner(s)? Or were the endpapers used as an address book of sorts? Or something else?

photo 4
Back endpapers, Progressive Glee and Chorus Book

The end papers in the back also contain mnemonic devices for remembering musical notes:

E. G. B. D. F   /   G. B. D. F. A.
F A. C. E   /   A. C. E. G.


For example, EGBDF = Every good boy deserves favor, is the mnemonic for the notes on the treble clef.

I searched for some of the name/address combinations and found little tidbits of information (via Google and the Libraries’ subscription access to Indiana newspapers in the Newspaper Archive). For example, I found a mention of Laura Wollenweber in our local Bloomington, Indiana paper, the Herald Times, in an obituary for her daughter, Mary Elizabeth Neal, who passed away in 2006 at the age of 101.

But when I searched for the name Ida Weimer, the only Bloomington, Indiana name and address, I found more than I’d bargained for.

ida weimer b cover
Mark of ownership on back endpaper, “Ida Weimer, Bloomington, Ind.”
ida weimer f cover
Mark of ownership, front endpaper, “Ida Weimer.”

It turns out that in 1902, Ida Weimer was the unfortunate victim of a terrible attack. She was walking home from her job as an operator at the telephone exchange one Friday evening, and was attacked on College Avenue near the “old college campus.” This is the headline of the first report in the Bloomington Courier:

Brutal assault upon your ladyThe story made the front page of the paper several days in a row, and was also reported in newspapers in other Indiana cities, as well as some in Ohio and Kentucky.

A follow-up story in the Bloomington Courier 1 ½ years later on January 26, 1904 indicated that the case was never solved:

 “It was recalled today that the brutal assault on Miss Ida Weimer in this city a year ago, is almost parallel in all Its details with the terrible crime at Bedford, which is scarcely 25 miles from here, and has given rise to the question whether the same assailant might not have committed both crimes. Miss Weimer was employed at the local telephone exchange. She was deeply religious, and was not known to accept the attentions of any young men. She was popular and was not believed to have an enemy in the world. One evening as she was returning to her home at supper time, she was attacked by an unknown person as she was passing through the old college campus. It was quite dark. She was suddenly struck ou the head with some blunt instrument, and was beaten about the head and body and left for dead. There was apparently no attempt at criminal assault, and no motive could ever be learned for the crime. Miss Weimer was found when a searching party started after she had not returned home. She was removed to her home and hovered beneath life and death for several weeks. When she finally regained consciousness she could throw no light on the crime. She never fully recovered, and is today partially paralyzed as the result of the brutal attack.”

When I began poking around for information about the names inscribed in this book, it was just an abstract curiosity. But when I read the follow-up story, I instantly connected this to very recent unsolved cases of missing or murdered women in our city, and the “story” suddenly became much more real.

So much for curiosity.

[1] · Banks, Paul. N. (1990). “Preservation, library collections, and the concept of cultural property,” p.89, Libraries and scholarly communication in the United States. Edited by Phyllis Dain and John Y. Cole. New York: Greenwood Press.

Flattening a Stiff Board Vellum Book, OR, How I Lost 1 1/2 Inches in Just Two Hours

Our Music Library recently sent me a nice book covered in vellum over stiff boards, titled Vergel de Musica. It was written in the 16th century by Martin de Tapia, but this edition was published in 1954, and was in the circulating collection.

Martin de Tapia (fl. 1559-1570) was a highly respected music theorist – that is, until it was discovered, in recent times, that his Vergel de Musica was plagiarized in its entirety from another author’s work!*

The problem at hand, though, was that the covers were really warped.

Stiff-board vellum binding, before treatment
Stiff-board vellum binding, before treatment. The depth at the outer edges was 2 ½ inches.

Vellum reacts to changes in environmental conditions. It may shrink in a dry environment, such as occurs in the winter in heated buildings, i.e. the open stacks of your typical library. The pull of the vellum is very strong and can warp the boards. The counteracting pull exerted by the adhered endpapers is not enough to counteract that of the vellum. Both the vellum and boards need to be relaxed to be flattened.

I had a little experience with parchment/vellum, but only with humidifying and flattening rolled documents like diplomas and certificates. I knew that a stiff-board vellum binding was more complicated. Too much moisture can cause the vellum to become distorted and/or transparent whether its a document or on a bound volume. In addition, too much weight/pressure on a bound volume can crack the vellum in the joint, or split the endpaper at the inner hinge.

After doing some reading, and asking advice from wise colleagues, I had a plan. Several techniques have been used successfully, including:

  • Introducing humidity using a humidifier and pressing very gradually over months under felt blankets and weights
  • Humidifying with damp blotters through a Gore-Tex barrier
  • Lifting up the pastedowns and adhering a new lining to counteract the pull (can be a good choice if other repairs besides flattening are needed)
  • Applying thin coats of Methycellulose adhesive to the pastedowns.

A thread of messages on the Book Arts Listserve dated June 13-15, 2012 with the subject line “Warped boards,” contains descriptions of several of these techniques.

The vellum was in good condition except for the warping. The plain paper endsheets were in good condition too except for splits right along the edges of the top turn-ins, visible as a thin line in the picture below.

4-after detailOther than that, the book was in very good condition. So I decided to use the Gore-Tex pack. Gore-Tex is a waterproof, breathable membrane, which is useful for introducing humidity gently without the object coming in direct contact with water. Gore-Tex is used to make raincoats that keep you dry without getting sweaty, waterproof running shoes and boots, and the like.

Here is what I did.

⇒ First I wrapped the text block completely in a sheet of thin (2 mil.) Mylar to protect it from the moisture that would be introduced.

⇒ I inserted Reemay (sheets of non woven polyester) inside the covers against the pastedowns, then damp blotters, closed the book, and put a light weight on top. I put the book inside a plastic tub with a locking lid for 15 minutes. After checking the progress, I put it back for another 15.

⇒ The boards started to feel a little bit pliable, so I re-dampened the inner blotters and put them back. Then I started introducing humidity on the outside. I wrapped a sheet of Gore-Tex over the outside of the cover to protect the vellum, damp blotters against the Gore-Tex on the front and back of the book, and wrapped a sheet of thin Mylar around everything. I put a thick acrylic sheet on top of the book with a light weight on top, inside the tub, and checked progress a few times over a 30-minute period.

⇒ Next I replaced the damp blotters inside the covers with “pyramids” of damp blotters, little stacks of rectangles graduating in size, with the smallest centered and closest to the pastedowns. The pyramids put more pressure in the center of the board so that it is pressed upward while the outer edges are pressed downward. I put the whole package back under the acrylic sheet, this time with a medium weight, inside the tub for 30 minutes.

⇒ Wow, it was already pretty flat! I switched the damp blotter pyramids inside for dry pyramids but left the outer Gore-Tex, blotters, and Mylar for another 30 minutes.

⇒ Last, I removed everything and placed dry blotters on the insides and outsides of the covers. I put the book under a board with a fairly heavy weight and left it overnight.

After treatment

And that is how I lost 1 ½ inches in just two hours.

depth BT and AT
Before and after treatment

I made a phase box for it as a restraining enclosure and recommended that the Music Library transfer the book to their special collections vault where the temperature and RH are much better controlled than the open stacks.

Thanks to my wise and generous colleagues, Priscilla Anderson and Liz Dube, for sharing their knowledge and experience on vellum-covered books, and Susan Rogers, who taught and guided me through the process of using a Gore-Tex pack to humidify parchment documents.


*Tapia [Numantino], Martín de, (fl 1559–70). Spanish theorist. He came from the province of Soria, in which the ancient Iberian city of Numantia was located. He is thought to have been a ‘bachiller’ of Salamanca University and a musician in the Cathedral of Burgo de Osma. Tapia’s treatise, Vergel de música spiritual, speculativa y activa, del qual muchas, diversas y suaves flores se pueden coger (Burgo de Osma, 1570; ed. J. Subirá, Madrid, 1954), was completed in 1559, 11 years before publication. It was held in high regard both by later Spanish theorists and by recent music historians, earning him a reputation for erudition and originality. The respect was misplaced, as has been shown by Stevenson and León Tello, who discovered independently that Tapia plagiarized in its entirety, including even the dedication and prologue, Bermudo’s Libro primero de la declaración de instrumentos (1549). The trifling alterations made by Tapia, chiefly consisting of added sentences at the beginnings and ends of chapters, were designed to conceal the deception.

Almonte Howell. “Tapia, Martín de.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 7, 2014,

How We Spent the Summer in General Collections Conservation

It started normally enough in May, as soon as Spring semester ended. As part of a larger effort to enhance services for the William & Gayle Cook Music Library, we began a blitz of their heavily used Reserves Collection.

The Jacobs School of Music at IU has one of the largest academic music libraries in the world, and we in General Collections Conservation can attest to the collection’s heavy and intensive use. Unlike some other disciplines, where use of print continues to decline, music materials there are still heavily used in print form.

Our goal was to repair all the needy reserve materials before the start of Fall semester. Alexis Witt, Reserves Coordinator, identified materials in need of treatment, and sorted them into priority groups — needed for 1st summer session, 2nd session, or (potentially) fall semester. We worked on them accordingly.

Many items needed the advanced skills of our Conservation Technicians, Anitta Salkola-White and Lara Tokarski. I pitched in too, while our student techs helped keep up with the regular flow of materials from other libraries. In all we repaired about 150 Music Reserve items, and spent an average of 2.6 hours per item.

Repaired Music Reserve books
Repaired books from the Music Library’s reserve collection

Now I’ll bet you’re thinking, “Wow, 2.6 hours per item. That’s a lot!”

And it is. That is what can happen when materials, such as those on reserve, can’t be spared long enough for commercial binding or in-house repair. If treatment services and turnaround time are not responsive to the needs of users, repairs may be put off too long, and there may be pressure to use expedient methods (i.e., tape) to keep books together for another circulation. The longer repairs are put off, the condition worsens, repairs take longer, they have to be off the shelves longer, the work piles up. Sort of a vicious cycle.

In addition, there are a lot of scores in the Music Reserves Collection, many on reserve almost constantly. These occupied most of our time! Musical scores are used in a very particular way, which results in damage to the text pages (rather than the cover or cover-to-text attachment). While performing, the musician turns the pages quickly, taking a hand off their instrument only briefly. You can almost feel the energy of this activity from the pattern of tears that results.

Bottom edge tears
Tears at the bottom edge

Multiple edge tears, usually at the bottom of the page, are common.

Long irregular tear
Sometimes there are long, irregular tears too.

On older scores, breaks and tears often occur all along the inner margins. Many needed guarding of the folds throughout, or mending at the bottom 2-3 inches of every fold.

All of these kinds of tears are more troublesome when they have been patched with pressure-sensitive tape.  Also, many of the multiple-signature scores we repaired were commercially bound in the 1960s and 1970s using stiff hinge cloth wrapped around the folds of the first and last signatures. The cloth forms a knife edge against which the pages break, one after another. While the content is in tatters, the covers of many of the commercially bound scores are still sound.

Breaking page at cloth hinge
Stiff hinge cloth causes breakage at the inner margin

We returned about 10 heavily damaged scores to the Music Library without repair so they could decide whether to try to purchase a replacement copy. These were generally brittle, covered liberally in tape, and more than about 6 folios. Those in similar condition but fewer pages could often be repaired with a combination of scanned replacement pages and tape removal with a heated spatula/hot tacking tool (when tape was in the way of a repair, such as in the folds, or when an irregular tear has been misaligned, obscuring information).

This brief but intensive project has spawned some new ideas for meeting the challenges of caring for this large, important, and heavily used collection, and we are working now to put some of those into place. At the beginning of the post, I said that our goal was to finish the reserve repairs before the Fall semester. We actually finished in late July, which turned out to be a very good thing.

My New Friend Wei T’o

On Monday after the long Fourth of July weekend, we were just settling into a nice routine with the Music Reserves when we got the call. As mentioned in an earlier post, the Library at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction discovered a leak from a drain pipe over its book stacks, affecting about 400 books. The leak probably started at the beginning of the three-day holiday, judging from the condition of the books when we got there. It happened to be over the part of the collection with books about sex in art and in the movies, so about 90% of them are heavily illustrated. You know what that means – lots of coated paper.

In my next post, I will talk about my new friend, old Wei T’o, and how we spent the rest of the summer together (and probably fall too).

wei t'o
Wei T’o